How to Make a 3D Cartoon Edge

by Andy Klaus
Create the bold lined aesthetic of cartoons without a singe hand-drawn stroke.

Create the bold lined aesthetic of cartoons without a singe hand-drawn stroke.

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Cel shading allows an animator to recreate the appearance of hand-drawn content with rendered 3D graphics. Several video games such as Viewtiful Joe, Jet Set Radio and Dragon Quest VIII rely on this technique to create a cartoon-styled aesthetic for their animated sequences. Create these distinctive lines for your own projects with the right software and techniques.

Items you will need

  • Blender 3D modeling software
  • 3D software model
  • Reference images (manga, anime frames)

Setting the Stage

Step 1

Add the 3D model to the scene. If your model is not a native blender 3D file, use the proper import feature (including plugins if needed). Once imported, place the model centrally in the environment. Add other environmental details such as walls or floors.

Step 2

Add lights to the scene. Place at least three fill lights and one detail light.

Step 3

Position the fill lights around the 3D model so that no face is unlit. Ensure that the fill light levels are bright enough to highlight the edges of the model but not so bright that they wash out the scene.

Step 4

Rotate the detail light until it faces the 3D model. Position it at a distance so that it does not project a shadow that is too large to clarify the scene.

Step 5

Assign properties to the detail light. Set the light as a spot type light source and turn on shadows. Adjust the intensity of the light until it casts a visible shadow. Set the color to a tone that matches the highlights.

Materials Management

Step 1

Select an object or face of an object in the scene and set it to render as smooth instead of solid. This will produce crisp edges that you can use later to create the refined bold outlines.

Step 2

Add custom materials to the element or face of the objects. Accomplish this by selecting the materials option button, then clicking the new button.

Step 3

Set the materials attributes to produce dark edges and flat rendering. Do this by selecting a light color for the face and a dark specularity color.

Step 4

Reduce the material hardness values and set the specularity to zero. Raise reflectivity and ambient color of the materials as needed to brighten the face colors. Rely on the lights in the scene rather than material properties to create highlights to define the edges.

Step 5

Repeat the process of mapping materials to all the faces or objects in the scene.

Finishing Touches

Step 1

Click on the display button then the edge button to bring up the edges management panel.

Step 2

Set the Eint value to approximately 150.

Step 3

Perform a quick render of the scene to make sure the values look right. If the edges are too thick, or the faces themselves begin to show outlines, lower the Eint value.

Step 4

Adjust materials and light values to match the look of the reference image you are attempting to replicate. Experiment with various materials and specular colors until you are satisfied with the result. Add other details or elements to the scene once you have figured out the proper settings you want. Apply your final materials settings to the new objects until your scene is complete.

Step 5

Render your frame with full resolution output and output the file in the image format of your preference.

Tips & Warnings

  • Use the latest version of Blender or you will not have access to the Eint feature and will have to rely on more complicated means to reproduce this effect.
  • Do not use licensed models in works you are utilizing for commercial purposes without obtaining permissions from the creator.

About the Author

Andy Klaus started his writing career contributing science and fiction articles to Dickinson High School's newsletters back in 1984. Since then, he has authored novels and written technical books for health-care companies such as VersaSuite. He has covered topics varying from aerospace to zoology and received an associate degree in science from College of the Mainland.

Photo Credits

  • Photos.com/Photos.com/Getty Images